The Case Against a Demagogue
Demagogue - a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.
Much ink has been spilled and many pixels have been lit by writers and bloggers and pundits and Facebook friends about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. With only one day left before we vote, writing about my own views now may see them washed out in all the noise, or simply ignored by many made-up minds. Yet because we are about to make a momentous choice (for many, an unfortunate choice), I am compelled to make a case. If there is anyone left who may still be wondering what to do, maybe it will shed some useful light on what we face.
This year’s election puts us in the extraordinary situation of having to choose between two candidates who are perhaps more damaged than any in history. While I agree with quite a bit of the criticism by each side against its respective opponent, my view, simply stated, is this: we cannot elect a demagogue to lead our country.
Donald Trump is the definition of a demagogue, a man pandering to the worst tendencies of a small but notable slice of society. His momentum has spread from that group and swept up a frighteningly large number of others who just want someone – anyone – to make changes – any changes – to shake up our political system. His appeal is one of catering to frustrations, making grandiose promises, and reassuring those who want to believe in a message of strength and jingoism, even though he offers very few specific plans, ignores facts, and propagates outright lies. Regardless of what he says, what is most important to a large part of this group is that he is the alternative to the much-vilified Hillary Clinton. Trump is hoping to ride a wave of hype and hysteria to the White House. To those who support him because he is the “non-politician” satisfying their thirst for upending the system, you may get what you wish for. And you may regret it.
The politics Trump promotes should be deeply troubling to those who want true change. If it isn’t already obvious, take a fingernail and flake off the thin coat of garish paint he’s slapped on his brand of populism and see what hides underneath. He rises on a shaky foundation of fear and anger. It is nothing new. What his election to the highest political office on the planet would mean for all of us is alarming.
What Trump represents may have first been revealed by his comments about Mexican immigrants in June of 2015:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
When I was growing up in the 1970s, there was a TV commercial featuring a man with his grandson fishing on a quiet lake in a rowboat. The child mentions that someone called him prejudiced, and mentions his friend, his Jewish friend, and the grandfather points out how calling him that is an example of being prejudiced. It is a mild portrayal of unintentionally bad behavior compared to that willfully demonstrated by Trump. The point is, most of us learned as children that making judgments about a person based on race or religion is wrong, or at least we all should have learned that.
Trump embraces that kind of ignorance, concentrates it into a potion, and makes it into a bomb. I was floored when I saw the now Republican presidential candidate allege that Mexican immigrants are typically criminals, and speculating that – yes! – there may be some that are good people. That single event forced me to consider this man unfit for the presidency. He never had to elaborate or say anything else. Those comments were completely unacceptable and should have been enough to disqualify him from anyone’s consideration. I was certain that that would be the end of his campaign, but it was just a preview of the race-baiting and xenophobia that would drive his support. He continued to build on it with a litany of crazy shit he did and said, all actively defended by his most rabid supporters and cronies. A small and incomplete list follows:
- He attacked Arizona Senator John McCain for not being a war hero, because “I like people who weren’t captured.”
- He attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in the line of duty in Iraq.
- He proposed that the U.S. ban anyone who is Muslim from entering the country.
- He has proposed not defending NATO allies.
- He lied about donating to a veteran’s group.
- He lied about sending a private jet to rescue stranded U.S. troops.
- He claimed he saw thousands of Muslims celebrating on rooftops in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks.
- He claimed the unemployment rate is 42 percent.
- He has alleged that the U.S. election system is rigged against him.
- He called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email account.
- He attacked the Pope.
- He attacked the judge overseeing the case against Trump University because of an unfavorable ruling, due to the judge’s Mexican heritage.
- He attacked Carly Fiorina for her looks.
- He attacked Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi, for her looks.
- He attacked Megan Kelly for having “blood coming out of her wherever.”
- He refuses to release his tax returns under the pretense that he’s being audited.
- He made a campaign donation to the Attorney General of Florida while she was considering investigating Trump University.
- He used over $250,000 from his charity to settle lawsuits.
- He said President Obama was complicit in the Orlando terrorist attacks.
- He proposed disarming Clinton’s bodyguards and “let’s see what happens to her.”
- He said Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.
- He retweeted an anti-Semitic image of Hillary Clinton from a white supremacist message board.
- He mocked a reporter with a disability.
- He pointed out, during a live presidential debate, how the size of his hands are in no way related to the size of his genitalia.
- He insisted at a rally in Fresno, California, that there actually was no drought in California.
- He was caught on tape, with Billy Bush, bragging about how, “[W]hen you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
There is a lot I’m leaving out because it would take hours to compile it all. See “176 Reasons Donald Trump Shouldn’t Be President” for a whole bunch more, written in mid-September, before some of his most damning controversies erupted.
While there are people who will see many of these items as disqualifying, others will see them less critically. To the latter group, these things may only prove that Trump is an oaf, or they are relatively minor, or he doesn’t mean them, or that Hillary Clinton is just so much worse. While I may disagree overall, I get all that. My enthusiasm for Clinton, for example, has never been high (an understatement). However, you have to take what candidates say seriously. It is now a stark choice, one he has made thoroughly certain I don’t need to deliberate.
What I think might make an even stronger case for Trump’s unsuitability and ineptitude for the job of president is highlighted by what others have said about him – others who are not just experienced in governing our country, but Republicans who are, or have been, opposed to him. Here is a partial list of quotes by Republicans:
- Robert Gates, former head of the CIA, “[O]n national security, I believe [he] is beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.”
- Gen. John Allen, a retired four-star Marine general and former special envoy to the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, “While [Trump] appears not to understand basic military activities, it’s not clear to me that he’s interested in learning them.”
- Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the American public for suckers.”
- David Frum, former George W. Bush speechwriter, “We don’t have to analogize Donald Trump to any of the lurid tyrants of world history to recognize in him the most anti-constitutional personality ever to gain a major-party nomination for the U.S. presidency.”
- Rick Perry, former Texas governor, Trumpism is “a toxic mix of demagogy, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if followed.”
- Bill Bratton, New York City Police Chief, “Trump scares me — scares the hell out of me, to be quite frank with you and personal opinion. I just don’t get it in terms of the support for him.”
- Hank Paulson, former Secretary of the Treasury, “I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton… Simply put, a Trump presidency is unthinkable.”
- Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, “[T]here’s just no place for discrimination in our place or any other company or in the US, so the comments about Mexico or Muslims, that’s unacceptable to us… I can’t reconcile with anything I believe in, or that I think the country stands for or that the company stands for.”
- Meg Whitman, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise CEO, “To vote Republican out of party loyalty alone would be to endorse a candidacy that I believe has exploited anger, grievance, xenophobia, and racial division. Trump’s reckless and uninformed positions on critical issues - from immigration to our economy to foreign policy - have made it abundantly clear that he lacks both the policy depth and sound judgment required as president.”
- Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and retired U.S. Navy officer, “If Donald Trump is the nominee, I would vote for Hillary Clinton. He doesn’t appear to be a Republican, he doesn’t appear to want to learn about issues.”
- Robert Killebrew, retired Army colonel, “He completely misunderstands the military profession that he would head if he were the president.”
- Senator Lindsay Graham, “I don’t think he has the temperament or judgment to be commander in chief. A lot of my colleagues will vote for him enthusiastically, some will hold their nose, I just can’t go there with Donald… I just really believe that the Republican Party has been conned here.”
- Conservative columnist David Brooks, “Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out.”
- Rick Wilson, GOP strategist, “You could be living on a diet of lead paint, cheap vodka and Real Housewives and still know more than Trump does about, well, everything.”
- Karl Rove, GOP strategist, Trump is “a complete idiot.”
- Dan Senor, a national-security aide to George W. Bush, said “[T]here should be serious concern” about giving Trump classified briefings.
- Gordon Humphrey, former New Hampshire Senator, Trump is “a sociopath, without a conscience or feelings of guilt, shame or remorse.”
- Chris Shays, former Connecticut congressman, “I think many Republicans know Donald Trump could cause great damage to our country and the world at large, and still plan to vote for him. But not me.”
- Richard Hanna, New York congressman, “For me, it is not enough to simply denounce [Trump’s] comments: He is unfit to serve our party and cannot lead this country.”
- Charlie Sykes, conservative radio commentator from Wisconsin, “Well seriously, this is the party that just nominated Donald Trump, and we’re supposed to believe that. Watching a party that had eight years ago mocked Democrats for having low information voters and a cult of personality, and now it’s like we have the lowest information voters ever and the worst cult of personality that I’ve seen since the 1930s.”
- Wayne Grudem, Evangelical theologian, “I previously called Donald Trump a ‘good candidate with flaws’ and a ‘flawed candidate’ but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.”
I am leaving a lot off this list as well. See “Which Republicans Oppose Donald Trump? A Cheat Sheet”, “50 GOP Officials Warn Donald Trump Would Put Nation’s Security at Risk”, and “Open Letter on Donald Trump from GOP National Security Leaders” for more.
Maybe the most troubling development in this election is the support Trump has received from white supremacist groups, exemplified by just one example here:
- Rachel Pendergraft, a national organizer for the Knights Party, which succeeded David Duke’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, “The success of the Trump campaign just proves that our views resonate with millions. They may not be ready for the Ku Klux Klan yet, but as anti-white hatred escalates, they will.”
The support for Trump from the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and many hate groups is frightening. To be fair, Trump has renounced these endorsements, but he was slow to do so when they began early in the campaign, and some of his behavior, such as retweeting an anti-Semitic image of Hillary Clinton from a white supremacist message board, leaves me concerned about how much he values the support from these groups. Thankfully, I think this is not an indication of what most Trump supporters believe, and hopefully, the most these groups can ever aspire to is relegation to the fringes of a fading piece of our culture.
On Election Day, I will do what I can to deny Trump the presidency. That doesn’t mean I will be happy with the result, but the choice for two qualified candidates was never given to me. The Republicans took that possibility away when they nominated Trump. The blame for the outcome of this election, whatever it is, rests largely with them.